Salt Water Cafe is notorious for great drink deals and spectacular food.
I eye tables crammed with the who’s who of Bandra – makeup artists, models, producers. I’m 15 minutes late and already my table has been taken. The fact that I have to wait to get another table is the sign of an ‘It’ place.
I can’t help but notice the latest and greatest tribute to the inner floozy: The Never Ending Glass of Sangria; Monday to Friday from 4pm to 7pm, or if you feel like bunking work to get smashed, 11am to 4pm. Faaaaabulous.
The never ending wine list features a separate, easy to peruse, summarised list of international wines available by the glass, to save customers the stress of wading through the full drinks menu.
The accessibility of international wines by the glass at Salt Water Cafe acknowledges the Indian consumer’s escalating interest in wine and a confident fearlessness on the establishment’s part in wine storage.
International beers such as Leffe, Hoegaarden and Schneider are also available, with fresh juices for the non-sheraabis.
Delighted by the mention of duck, I go right ahead and order the salad. A glass bowl brimming with colours is set in front of me and I dig in.
Zesty mango pieces contrast sharply with the robust flavour of fresh duck meat, with smatterings of wild rice granola which provide crunch and sweetness. Reminiscent of rice bubbles, the inclusion of this unusual element in a salad lends a satisfyingly different texture to the usual.
Water chestnuts provide a soft, starchy consistency which blend well with crunchy romaine lettuce leaves, while sweet pomegranate seeds pop pleasantly around the mouth. The dish is finished with sesame seeds and sprigs of dill.
The chef has utilised just the right amount of duck to gel with the other components; in this dish, there is no overbearing star. Every ingredient is showcased equally in a complementary ensemble cast which has been chosen with care.
The lamb burger is huge: I am thrilled by its size. I spy two kinds of cheese: fetta and cheddar.
Bringing up the rear are pickles, lettuce, caramelised onions and finally, juicy lamb which has been cooked to medium so its juices spurt out with every mouthful.
My mouth is held ransom by a rein of cheese. I struggle to break free, then surrender to the burger.
The chips are uncomplicated, crunchy and incredibly addictive, lightly seasoned with chicken salt.
The aroma of melting parmesan cheese reaches me before the dish does, wafting lazily around in a cartoon-esque fashion. My mouth starts to salivate.
I appreciate the waiter’s OCD tendency of placing the dish just perfectly, so the branding of the restaurant is not upside down.
Basil leaves recline atop a simple dish of spaghetti accessorised with cherry tomatoes and cut black kalamata olives. The entire concoction is incredibly rich and saucy with fresh bursts of greeting from the tomatoes and saltiness from the olives.
The tomato paste lubricates the dish wonderfully with a hint of garlic and spice, betraying its lineage as Arrabiata-inspired.
There are enough elements in the dish to keep me eating, no thought of meat enters my mind. Rather I feel meat would only serve to complicate the dish and detract from its charming simplicity. I feel that if I were in Europe, this is how the Italians would do it.
The dish placed in front of me looks attractively architectural in form, with rice crackers forming a curtain for what lies beneath. I draw the crackers from the scenery and say hello to imported Brazilian pork belly astride mashed potatoes. My heart skips a beat.
The pork is everything I dreamed it to be: smoky with a 50/50 ratio of fat to robust, superior quality meat, rather than just being all fat like the local variety.
The mashed potato, caramelised onion and accompanying jus turn this dish into a magical experience, while the sophisticated, lightly spiced pea puree allows for easy integration of textures without dumbing down the overall plate.
The accompanying rice crackers add an audible dimension to the dish with
resounding crunches which echo across the room, much to my embarassment.
The ‘proper’ way to do pork belly is to have the skin exceedingly crispy, which is achieved by cranking up the oven to extremely high levels and roasting the skin for 20 minutes.
During peak times at the establishment this is difficult to monitor, so Salt Water Cafe’s soft skin interpretation is offered to customers who are sometimes none the wiser and appreciate the palatable quality of the dish served.
The dessert is beautifully and artistically presented garnished with a crunchy honeycomb biscuit which has been stuck into a very soft, warm cheesecake. My spoon glides through the fluffy exterior and right through the granular biscuit base.
The flavours are delicately sweet and immaculate, with separate biscuit pieces served on the side that bring an interactive element to the piece, allowing the consumer to experience differing shades of flavour as one switches between elements.
This dessert experience is akin to eating a cloud.
It is refreshing to see that Salt Water Cafe prioritises the serving of international quality meals over profits with many of its dishes, using imported meat for many dishes and pricing them at a competitive rate where the margin for themselves is very little.
The service at SWC is intuitive but not suffocating. Waiters bustle about but come back every so often to show they’re around and ask about the quality of the dish. In terms of training and service, the Impresario Group has really stood out in providing an international standard.
During peak times of breakfast and lunch, SWC could perhaps introduce the concept of table-sharing as there were a number of singles occupying four person tables. This could perhaps also break the social barriers that many Mumbaikars implement in their day -to- day life.
With an incredible food selection spanning breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pastas, mains and desserts, if I had to eat at only one place in Mumbai for the rest of my life, this would be it.
Ambience 9, Food 10.
Salt Water Cafe is located at 87 Chapel Road, Rose Minar Annexe, Next to Mount Carmel Church, Bandra West.